Perth Glory reached their first Hyundai A-League Grand Final after surviving a tense and action-packed match against the Central Coast Mariners, who suffered their second heartbreaking penalty shootout loss in two seasons.
Perth Glory reached their first A-League Grand Final after surviving a tense and action-packed match against the Central Coast Mariners, who suffered their second heartbreaking penalty shootout loss in two seasons.
With scores locked at 1-1 after normal time and the additional 30 minutes, Glory captain Jacob Burns slotted the decisive spot-kick at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday to give Perth a 5-3 win in the shoot-out.
Perth converted all five of their penalties against A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Mat Ryan, making Michael McGlinchey pay for sending the hosts' fourth kick over the bar.
It was the second penalty missed by the Mariners in the match. Patrick Zwaanswijk failed to convert from 12 yards in the 56th minute in one of a long series of near misses for the home side, who did everything but score the goal that would have set up a Suncorp rematch against Brisbane Roar next Sunday.
But Glory's incredible late-season surge continued, their resolute determination carrying them all the way to the decider.
Perth started the better in an even and cagey first half, with Billy Mehmet imperious at the point of Ian Ferguson's 4-2-3-1 formation.
The Mariners had the better chances of the early exchanges, however, despite having to play mostly on the counter, the best falling to Tomas Rogic and Adam Kwasnik after the former combined well with the two wingbacks Pedj Bojic and Josh Rose on separate occasions.
Graham Arnold had given Kwasnik a big wrap in the press this week and his faith was rewarded in the 33rd minute, but in fairness the striker couldn't have had an easier chance after Ollie Bozanic's corner found its way to him at the back post after skipping through Travis Dodd's legs.
But the Mariners perhaps showed signs of their intense workload with a lapse of concentration that allowed Perth to hit straight back through red hot striker Shane Smeltz.
Josh Risdon's clever through ball met Billy Mehmet's intelligent run in behind the defence and the target man's selfless cutback saw the A-League's all-time leading goalscorer score one of his easier strikes into an empty net.
The Mariners wanted a foul on Tomas Rogic as they turned the ball over in their own half in the lead up and the Bluetongue faithful were incensed at the hint of offside on Mehmet's run.
The hosts had to quickly regain their composure as Perth created more danger through a simple long throw.
Arnold's half-time sermon had the desired effect as the Premiers exploded out of the blocks, Rogic seeing his shot saved and Rose's follow up fizzing just wide within 30 seconds of the restart.
The match caught fire again ten minutes later as Perth were denied a goal to Mehmet via the assistant referee's correct offside flag.
Central Coast wasted no time in streaking to the other end of the pitch where Kwasnik was adjudged to have been wrestled unfairly by Steve Pantelidis while trying to bundle home John Sutton's smart knockdown.
But penalty taker Patrick Zwaanswijk, who missed the Mariners' last two penalties, made it three in a row as his effort slammed against the bar.
The home side pressed still and Kwasnik blew a string of gilt-edged chances over the next 20 minutes. Perth goalkeeper Danny Vukovic was the hero on numerous occasions but he so nearly turned villain as a regulation catch slipped through his fingers, off the top of his head and off the woodwork to safety.
Glory were reduced to playing on the counter as the Mariners tried to finish things off within the 90 minutes, but they so nearly snatched a late winner as Smeltz's free header from 12 yards was directed too close to Ryan, who reacted quickly to palm it away.
Substitute Scott Neville then blasted a good chance over the bar shortly after as the visitors finished the stronger.
Perth might have tested Ryan further had it not been for the courageous work of John Hutchinson blocking shots at the edge of the box - just one feature of a standout performance.
Central Coast resumed their more controlled style in extra time and they quickly regained the upper hand. Substitute Bernie Ibini made an impact but failed to capitalise on two clear chances in the early stages of the additional half hour, miscuing a volley from ten yards and then firing wide on the run.
Fellow substitute Daniel McBreen did at least get his 105th-minute header on target but Vukovic punched it clear.
Ibini exposed the space on the right after Dean Heffernan had bombed forward for Glory, but his shot was courageously blocked by Pantelidis, who was running on empty by that stage and was replaced by Josh Mitchell soon afterwards.
It looked like a case of Glory trying to hang on for penalties as the tiredness of the players took its toll on the quality of the match. Rose played a slick one-two with Ibini to create space for a shot but Vukovic was positioned well once more and the deadlock could not be broken.
Central Coast 1 (3), Kwasnik 33' Perth Glory 1 (5), Smeltz 34'